Our favourite Cave is Chateau Langlois, just outside Saumur. Two years ago we went there for a tour and it was fantastic – interesting, informative, friendly and humorous and the wine was excellent. We returned this time to buy some more bubbly – we have a couple of special occasions to celebrate when we get back to the UK and Langlois Crémant will feature for sure.
The staff at the cave told us that the UK House of Commons has been one of their big importers, a tradition first started by Tony Blair. They were worried about the impact of Brexit on their exports to the UK – we told them that we were heart broken at the result because we love France so much but there wasn’t much chance that the people of the UK would stop drinking their wine. Shirley then explained that Tony Blair was sometimes called a ‘champagne socialist’ and they took careful note of the expression for chatting to UK customers. I hope they choose their audience carefully.
it was late on in the afternoon by the time we left the Cave and drove out of Saumur so we decided to spend the night at another of our favourite spots – Montreuil Bellay just a few miles down the road.
This was the very first place we spent a holiday together in France so it is full of lovely memories for us. We’ve been back several times but we never tire of it. Interestingly, it was the place that J R R Tolkein loved to visit and he used to walk along the river path to get his inspiration. The Motorhome Aire is on that very path at the foot of the hill that leads up the the chateau. Poppy and Boo gave it their seal of approval as there is a park between two inlets of water where they can run about without their leads. This gave Poppy all the excuse she needed to leap into a muddy puddle and splash about. To get her clean we persuaded her to paddle in the clean river on the other side of the path and to our astonishment Boo decided to step into the water as well. He hates to get his feet wet normally so we were suitably astounded by his bravery.
We had a quiet night there, accompanied by about twelve other vans some of whom shifted restlessly around looking for a satellite signal to watch their TVs. We don’t have a satellite so we picked our spot and stayed there. People watching is far more fun than TV watching anyway.
The next morning we set off south in the direction of the Vendée on the Atlantic coast. Choosing an Aire for an overnight is a bit hit and miss. The book, or the phone app can only tell you a little bit about the place and there are huge differences between them. Some of the motohomers we talk to on our travels say they would never dream of staying anywhere other than campsites because they’ve seen some really ropy Aires. Others say they would never stay anywhere else but Aires – why pay a campsite for facilities you have on board anyway. We like to mix the two. A simple rule of thumb is never stay on an Aire de Service on motorways or N roads. Choose ones in small towns or villages if possible and if you don’t feel comfortable move on. Our first stop was at La Roche sur Yon – it looked good in the book and it was close to an interesting town, or so we thought. We parked up alongside four other motorhomes, took the dogs for a walk and then left them while we explored the town. We were underwhelmed – the only interesting things we could find were some strange mechanical sculptures in the ponds in the town square. There were buttons and levers with an invitation to try them so I did. The two frogs in the picture immediately spat loudly and forcibly at two innocent passers by who were not best pleased. So that’s another town in France I can never return to.
Back at the van we looked at one another and agreed – we didn’t want to stay. It was noisy and too near a road. We were obviously near the hospital because ambulances wailed past every few minutes and two spitting frogs simply aren’t good enough reason to stay – so we left.
We drove down towards the Vendée coast with the intention of staying on an Aire close to the sea but as we passed the signpost to Talmont St Hillaire I remembered that I’d read good reviews of the place. We were driving down into the town before you could say ‘can’t make her mind up’ and after a few hairy manoeuvres round tiny bends and down narrow streets we found ourselves on a beautiful Aire in an idyllic little town. Result! It cost 6€ for a 24 hour parking ticket and there was a choice of places near a lake and in the shadow of the chateau.
The next morning we got our bikes off the rack and cycled to the coast along the excellent Vendée a Velo bike track. it was only about 5 miles and a really pleasant cycle. Shirley was happy because she always likes to see the sea on our trips – being brought up by the coast has given her a real longing to find it and just look at the view. Funnily enough the same thing didn’t happen to me with duck ponds. We stopped for a coffee in a square we had recognised on our way to the beach and then got back on our bikes confident that we could find our way back. We got lost. Really lost. We knew we we should be going inland but every turn we took led to the beach. Eventually we came across a huge holiday resort with a golf course and I went in to ask the golf pro how to find our way back. We were soon back on familiar roads and freewheeling down the hill into Talmont just in time to catch the Boulangerie before she shut for lunch. Lunch in France is a serious three hour affair so catching the bread shop before it shuts is crucial to our well being.
It’s getting cooler in the mornings and at night now in France. It catches us unawares most years – the afternoons are still very pleasantly warm but the mornings are proper parky. After a very chilly dog walk the next morning we decided to put on a bit of speed as we go south and chase the warmer weather. One night in the Poitou Charente region and a long day’s driving has brought us to one of our favourite places south of Bordeaux – Labastide d’Armagnac. It’s a mediaeval town with a great feeling of community and a massive Aire to stay for a day or two and enjoy it. We arrived tired at around 6 p.m. and found two British motorhomes, four friendly people to chat to and the last of the day’s sunshine to warm us.
I mentioned in an earlier post that we hadn’t packed enough clothes. The situation hit crisis point today when we realised that we were down to our last two pairs of clean knickers. We needed a laundrette or a supermarket with washing machines and dryers – quite a common sight in France. We drove through several small towns on our way to Labastide but didn’t see one anywhere. As a last resort we tried the town of Cadillac and to our immense relief we found an Intermarché complete with Laverie (laundromat). Using washing machines outside in the open air in a supermarket car park is a most interesting experience. When we arrived with virtually our entire wardrobe in two Tesco carrier bags we found that the bigger machine was occupied and the smaller one was free. It was obvious that we needed the bigger one so we waited the ten minutes until it was finished its cycle. The lady who was washing her duvet in there realised we needed it and with a few words, nods and points she made it clear that she wouldn’t let anyone else use it. In the meantime a slightly inebriated young man turned up with his clothes in a bag and a can of beer and began to load the smaller machine. To our amazement he took off his jacket, socks and trainers and put them in the machine as well, going off barefoot to sit on a wall and wait for his washing. We were suitably relieved that he stopped undressing before he got to his trousers. There is only one dryer in these mini laundrettes so the young man got to the dryer before our washing was finished. I was keen to get the dryer after him so I was going nowhere. This led to an interesting social situation where I was invited to enter into a conversation in French with a barefoot inebriated young man while we watched our pants turning in their machines. He could manage a few words of English and I did my best with French – “Votre chausettes dans la machine?” – stupid question because I’d seen him remove them. He laughed and shrugged a Gallic shrug and agreed that his socks were indeed in the machine. He then asked me if I was American and I put him right on that score pretty smartly and so it went on – idle small talk on a Friday afternoon in the town of Cadillac. It was surprisingly pleasant and I was a bit sad when the young man went on his way, socks and shoes now in place, as he waved his beer in the air and called “Bye for now”.
So here we are, settled for a couple of nights in the south of France. We’ve no idea where we’re going next except that we’ll be in Spain in a couple of weeks. We’re very relaxed, sleeping like logs and eating well. Which reminds me – I thought I should take a picture of the kind of food you can produce in a motorhome kitchen, just in case any of our readers imagines we lived on baked beans and sausages.
Happy weekend folks!